Q: Why did Israel conduct an operation in the West Bank?
A: On January 26, the Israeli military conducted a daytime raid on the Jenin refugee camp. According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the purpose of the raid was to arrest several Palestinian militants in response to intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack. Israeli forces surrounded a house suspected to be hiding members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the parties exchanged fire for around three hours.
The raid killed nine Palestinians, including seven combatants and two unarmed civilians. Of the seven combatants, three were intended targets of the Israeli raid. (A fourth surrendered and was taken into custody).
Q: How did this raid impact the Jenin community?
A: The Jenin Club at the refugee camp was completely destroyed, and tear gas reached the children’s ward of a nearby hospital, causing “inhalation injuries.” According to the Palestinian Health Minister, the Israeli troops initially restricted ambulances from accessing wounded Palestinians due to the fighting.
Q: Who is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and why does Israel perceive them as a threat? Are these raids legal?
A: The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is a militant organization that was founded in 1981 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood with the primary goal of achieving Palestinian liberation. Israel sees the PIJ as a threat because of its history of attacks on Israeli military and civilians, as well as its funding from the Iranian government.
Regarding legality, UN experts condemned the raid in Jenin, stating that “Israel’s deliberate policy and practice of using lethal force without regard for limits set by international law” must not be tolerated.
Q: What was the response of Palestinian political leadership?
A: Deputy Governor of Jenin, Kamal Abu al-Rub, said that during the raid IDF forces were “destroying everything and shooting at everything that moves.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the raid as a “massacre,” and blamed the rest of the world for allowing the deaths of Palestinians “amidst international silence.” He also immediately terminated Palestinian-Israeli coordination on security issues, dealing a major blow to Israel’s anti-terrorist efforts.
Q: How did the Israeli government analyze the raid?
A: A senior IDF officer stated that the raid in Jenin had “dismantled a ticking time bomb,” and pointed to the daytime nature of the raid as proof of the urgency of the terrorist threat. The IDF chief of staff added that “fighting terrorism is a complex mission” in light of Palestinian fatalities.
Shortly following the raid, Knesset member Almog Cohen of the Jewish Power Party tweeted: “Nice and professional work by the fighters in Jenin, keep killing them.” The tweet received severe backlash online and was later removed for violating Twitter guidelines.
Q: Has the situation escalated since the raid?
A: On January 27, a Palestinian gunman killed seven and injured two, including a 15-year-old boy, in a shooting outside of a synagogue in Jerusalem. The terrorist attack is believed to be retaliation for the raid in Jenin. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced intent to increase Israeli access to guns, which experts say will only lead to an increase in violence in the Palestinian territories.
Around midnight on January 27, two rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel and were intercepted (the PIJ later claimed responsibility). Israel responded by launching 15 missiles at the al-Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza, damaging property and causing power outages.
Q: Has the violence in the West Bank increased, compared to last year?
A: According to the UN, 2022 was the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2005; over 150 Palestinians were killed, including 33 children. However, 2023 is on track to outpace 2022. The Jenin raid brings the total number of Palestinians killed in January to 29, including 5 children.
Q: Have certain policy changes fueled this increase in conflict?
A: In March of 2022, Israel launched a military campaign called “Break the Wave” in response to increased Palestinian resistance to displacement projects and a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel. The campaign called for more raids to crackdown on terrorist cells in the West Bank but has been directly linked to the increase in civilian casualties.
Q: Has Israel’s new government encouraged the increase in violence?
A: Israel’s new government is the most far-right in Israeli history. The coalition’s guiding principles include the Jewish population’s “exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” including the West Bank, and its plan to “develop settlements in all parts of the Land of Israel.” This month, Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir also “instructed police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces, calling the Palestinian national symbol an act of ‘terrorism.’”
Although the government has only been in power for a month, many experts believe that these principles, as well as inflammatory remarks and actions from politicians such as Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, are causing the situation to escalate and may likely lead to increased conflict in the future.
Q: What is the United States saying?
A: Secretary Blinken arrived in Jerusalem on Monday as part of a previously planned tour of the Middle East. In talks with Netanyahu he called for both sides “to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate,” while acknowledging that change is “fundamentally up to them.”